Former science minister Binyamin Ze'ev (Benny) Begin formally announced his return to Likud politics and his race for the Knesset on Tuesday in a press conference at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters with his former political foe, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.
Sitting next to Netanyahu between portraits of his father, former Likud prime minister Menachem Begin, at young and old ages, Begin said that he had resolved his longstanding dispute with Netanyahu while maintaining his strong views against relinquishing any part of the Land of Israel.
Since Begin's intention to return to politics was revealed Sunday, the media have repeatedly aired clips of him fiercely criticizing Netanyahu during their 1997 dispute over the Hebron Accord, which led to Begin's resignation from Netanyahu's cabinet and later his decision to leave Likud and run against him for prime minister.
"I saw that the media have taken clips from the attic that have no connection to the current reality," Begin said. "Adults can decide to overcome the problems of the past.
"Two important things have happened in the last 10 years [since he quit Netanyahu's government.] Bibi has matured by 10 years and I have gotten 10 years older."
Netanyahu praised Begin for offering Israeli voters the "different kind of politics" that has been the campaign slogan of his main rival for the premiership, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. He said he expected to see Begin near the top of the Likud's Knesset list in the February 10 general election, but both men said no promises had been made for a reserved slot on the list or a specific role in the government.
"Even parties criticizing me today for bringing him back to the Likud wish they had him," Netanyahu said. "He symbolizes the integrity everyone wishes they could aspire to at every level.
"I want help from his leadership and integrity to make the necessary changes to return security and economy and undertake an educational revolution."
While Begin has received praise for his integrity from politicians across the political spectrum, his return to the Likud has been used as cannon fodder for Labor and Kadima MKs to accuse Netanyahu of taking the Likud to the extreme Right. Netanyahu responded that there was room for many political opinions in Likud.
"I like it that opinionated people are joining us," Netanyahu said. "I am not concerned that Benny Begin will present his views, and I'm sure he will.
"The Likud has a centrist outlook. The public saw the terror that the other side [of the political map] brought, and people want to return to our realistic path."
Netanyahu said that he had made no promises to Begin ruling out contacts and negotiations with the Palestinians or Syrians to bring him back to the party.
Begin expressed hope that his fellow former Likud minister Dan Meridor would return to the party, despite their differences of opinion on territorial concessions.
He recalled that in the past the Likud had been criticized for being too monolithic in its views and said that he preferred a larger party with a multiplicity of outlooks.
Reminding voters of his uncompromising views, Begin said that the public had "reawakened from its illusions" about chances for peace with the Palestinians due to suicide bombings and rocket attacks and he hoped another awakening would not be necessary. He said he didn't agree with the notion that people who currently don't see chances for peace with Israel's neighbors are extremist, noting that even President Shimon Peres had hinted such recently.
"I joined the Likud to deal with difficult challenges that lie ahead and because I wanted to participate and have influence in the current ideological debate," Begin told the English-language media at the press conference. "The reality has changed. People in Israel realize that there can no longer be illusions.
"The quest for diplomatic compromise has been tried by Israeli governments, and it led us nowhere but to increased violence."
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